Who: UK legislators
When: from 13 December 2014
Law stated as at: 16 January 2015
On 13 December 2014 the UK implemented EU Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers (the “EU Regulation”).
The detailed provisions for enforcement of the EU Regulation in the UK are contained in the Food Information Regulations 2014 (“FIRs”). The FIRs also make various other changes to existing UK food-related measures that are driven by other EU legislation.
This means that only parts of the FIRs are relevant to the EU Regulation and that to understand fully the nature of the changes made by the EU Regulation, the FIRs have to be read in conjunction with the EU Regulation itself. Not straightforward, but the intention of the EU Regulation is. This is to ensure that Europe’s consumers receive clearer, more comprehensive and accurate information on food content and to help us make informed choices about what we eat.
The key changes made by the EU Regulation are as follows:
The new rules extend current labelling requirements so as to require labels to indicate the presence of any one of 14 specific ingredients which may cause allergic reactions –these include nuts, milk, mustard and lupin seeds, which are often used in flour.
The requirements also apply to shops selling unpackaged goods such as sandwiches and cakes and deli products.
Food Standards Agency (“FSA”) guidance says allergen information can be given through menus, websites, special folders or as part of a conversation with staff. All ingredients in dishes must be recorded and kept up to date, with containers clearly labelled. Staff must be trained in providing allergen information from their first day in the job.
Country of origin
The Member State or third country where the animal was reared and slaughtered must appear on the label of pigs, sheep, goat and poultry.
At present nutrition information on labels is not mandatory unless a nutritional claim is made. From 13 December 2016 this will change. From that date most food products must carry a “nutrition declaration.” This must give details of the energy value and amounts of fat, saturates, carbohydrates, sugars, protein and salt.
All the information made mandatory by the EU Regulation must also be provided when selling through distance selling channels, including online. The required disclosures must be made available at two points:
1. before the purchase is concluded when they “shall appear on the material supporting the distance selling or be provided by appropriate means clearly identified” by the responsible food business. When other “appropriate means are used, this must be provided without charging supplementary costs.” For instance telephone numbers enabling consumers to obtain allergen information must be at no cost to the consumer; and
2. at the moment of delivery.
Requirement #1 does not apply to prepacked foods sold through vending machines.
Where multiple items are contained in a gift box or hamper, the mandatory disclosures, including allergen information, will need to be provided on materials supporting this sale by distance means.
Legibility of labels and prominence of mandatory information
All information made mandatory by the EU Regulation must be “marked in a conspicuous place in such a way as to be easily visible and clearly legible”, using a minimum font size specified in the EU Regulation.
Voluntary information must not be displayed to the detriment of mandatory information.
Consequential CAP Code changes
Although the EU Regulation principally affects labelling, which is outside the remit of the ASA-enforced CAP Code, it will impact food advertising insofar as either it carries pack shots or appears online in a sales context or in other distance selling channels such as catalogues.
As a result, CAP has made “minor technical amendments” to the relevant sections of the CAP Code.
In fact the only difference is that the updated Code references the FIR in the Background section, as opposed to the previous reference to Food Labelling Regulations 1996 (as amended).
The relevant CAP update confirms that the substance of the Code has not been updated. As the ASA relies on the principles of the relevant regulations to assess claims they have simply updated the reference to mention the new Regulations.
Why this matters:
These changes follow an 80% rise in UK hospital admissions relating to allergies since 2002.
It is vital that all businesses selling food online and by other distance selling methods as well as those packaging and labelling food and also those selling it in restaurants and sandwich bars are aware of the changes and take action accordingly to avoid enforcement action.
The EU Regulation is here.
The UK Food Information Regulations 2014 are here.